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City launches rail campaign

John Colson

The city of Aspen has begun its “informational campaign” designedto show voters that a light-rail system can be built from theairport to the middle of town without raising taxes.City officials have hired a consultant, Robert Schultz of Carbondale,to take on the job of getting the word out to the public, foran as-yet undetermined amount of money. City staffers said heis being paid $100 per hour for his services.As part of his work, Schultz is working on a six-page brochurethat not only distills the complicated light-rail developmentdata into an easy-to-read format, but offers a quick summary ofthe light rail system’s tie-in to the ongoing effort to builda valleywide rail system between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.”We can raise the $57 million without raising taxes,” Schultzmaintained in a recent interview, referring to the projected costsof building a light-rail line from the Pitkin County Airport tothe Rubey Park transit center.He said the cost of extending the rail lines to Brush Creek, tohook up to a valleywide transit system as well as transit intoSnowmass Village, is expected to cost an additional $13.5 million.But, he said, officials expect to get that money from the federalgovernment. Those costs would come out of $85 million in federalfunds that have been earmarked, if not appropriated, for transitin the Roaring Fork Valley.Schultz said the $57 million figure that has been given out byarea officials for the airport-to-town rail system is in “1997dollars.” With inflation, the sum is likely to be approximately$64 million by the time construction is under way. Officials areplanning to build the light-rail system in 2001 if the votersgive their approval for the funding.Schultz said that $64 million is still a manageable cost for theproject, adding that the money is to come from three sources -savings, loans and a bond issue.According to Schultz, the Elected Officials Transportation Committee(EOTC), made up of elected representatives from Aspen, PitkinCounty and Snowmass Village, has already begun saving money againstthe construction costs of the light-rail system. An account hasbeen established that draws revenues from the countywide half-pennysales tax devoted to mass transit. That account is projected tocontain $14 million by the year 2001.Schultz, using the analogy of a person buying a house, likenedthe $14 million to a “down payment” on the overall cost of thelight-rail system.On top of that down payment, he said, the city is making plansto borrow up to $18 million, to be paid off with parking revenuesand money from the city’s general fund. This financing mechanism,Schultz said, would require a city election.To cap off the down payment and the loan, Schultz continued, thecounty’s half-penny sales tax is expected to be sufficient toservice a $33 million bond issue and still leave some funds forother projects. The bond issuance, he said, would require a countywideelection.The total from all three sources is $65 million, which Schultzsaid provides a $1 million cushion for unexpected costs associatedwith construction of the light-rail system.Both elections are being planned for November, and the city isputting the finishing touches on an informational brochure, tobe paid for by the city’s transportation department.The brochure outlines some of the basic concepts and assumptionsbehind the push to build the light-rail system, such as voterapproval in 1996 for a realigned Highway 82 across the Maroltopen space west of town, coupled with a light-rail system.”The new Entrance will reduce travel time from Buttermilk to Aspenby 34 percent, provide a world-class transit system for locals,commuters and visitors, and improve Main Street for pedestrians,residents and business owners,” the brochure declares. “When thedust settles, Main Street will be an (sic) civic amenity withreduced noise and air pollution, public gathering places, andsafe walkways.”The document also contains a breakdown of the projected costsof the light-rail system, and how the local share of the costsis to be met.City Manager Amy Margerum said the brochure has been printed toprovide information to voters if they ask for it, and that itmay ultimately be mailed out, included in advertising or otherwisesent out to the electorate.”How it’s going to be distributed has not been decided yet,” shesaid.Both Margerum and Schultz said city officials had decided to suspendthe informational campaign during the municipal election season,from April 19 through early May, to avoid confusing the votersor giving the appearance of trying to influence the election.The campaign will be reinstated after the election is over, completewith newspaper ads.Schultz said information about the funding for light rail willbe presented “to everyone, everywhere, over the next six months.”At this point, the key is to make the project finances transparent,”he said. “The city needs to do whatever it takes to ensure thattaxpayers understand how the project can be built without raisingtaxes.”


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